Sunday Music: Protomartyr’s “Modern Business Hymns”

I understand Protomartyr is probably an acquired taste. If the Dead Kennedys, the Stooges, and some Russian existential literature were thrown into a demonically possessed car factory in Detroit, this is what you’d hear echoing off in the distance. Musically and lyrically, they’ve consistently found ways to draw me in over their last several albums. It’s never immediate either. It always takes a few listens to start feeling like I “get it.” Their latest, Ultimate Success Today, is no exception. To get a flavor of where this album is coming from, here is what singer/lyricist Joe Casey told Fader,

The idea of a day that never ends is quite disturbing to me, especially if you’re suffering where you can’t go to sleep, and the sunlight coming in through your window is just the worst thing on Earth. I’m more frightened of a forever day than a forever night.

And that’s the tone, just so you’re ready. There’s plenty to analyze on this one, but I want to focus on something maybe more accessible, “Modern Business Hymns.” The song is sort of a painkiller induced dream state, starting with a reference to taking tranquilizers before bed while stressing about the next day’s work. As the song progresses, he talks himself through the future and concludes that the experience of life will change, but the condition of being alive, suffering, and work and things to be done, that’s just being human. Like all things Protomartyr, it’s heavy, but there are glimpses of beauty here too.

The song is fast, droning, and brooding until we get to the break at the three-minute mark. This is why I think I’m intrigued by this band so much. They use the music and contrast (loud/soft, fast/slow), high/low, melodic or harmonic/dissonant) to illustrate their points. At this point in the song, suddenly the tempo changes. The pace feels like the tranqs just really kicked in and there’s a floating optimism in the guitar. This is a more recognizable version of “hymn.” We’re transported. But then we start a march. The lyrics join, shifting from scared and fantastical to blunt acceptance, and in case you were waiting for it, this is where the Russian/existentialism comes in:

The past is full of dead men
The future is a cruelty
Resign yourself
The past is full of dead men
The future is a cruelty
Resign yourself
Hey, have you heard them say
“Ultimate Success Today”?

Protomartyr will make you think, and Protomartyr will make you feel. If you like it at all, this will require multiple listens to really sink in, and it will be worth it. Nobody else is quite doing things their way right now and it’s exciting. They’re ten years in and still progressing and developing. Here’s to ten more.

Bonus: we got a video…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.